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In the life of a working musician like Duke Robillard, guitars come and go. The venerable and highly respected guitarist, a master of styles ranging from blues to jazz to jump to swing, has a dazzling collection of roughly 40 to 50 guitars, most of them Gibsons or Epiphones, displayed around Duke’s Mood Room, his Pawtucket, Rhode Island home studio. But Robillard says he's no collector; as a general rule, he keeps guitars on hand for utilitarian purposes only.

That’s not to say, however, that a few axes don’t have genuine staying power. One of those special guitars—a 1949 Epiphone Deluxe Zephyr Regent—can be seen on the cover of Robillard’s latest release for Edmonton-based Stony Plain Records, World Full of Blues. “I’m very hard pressed to say what my favorite guitar is, because I love them all,” Robillard says. “It’s kind of like saying that you like one of your kids better than the other. But I suppose that if I were forced at gunpoint to choose one, it’d be that one.”

Robillard used the guitar on tracks like the T-Bone Walker favorite “Treat Me So Lowdown” and the self-penned “Look Out” and “Bounce for Billy,” and he says the V-shaped neck is what he loves most about the instrument. But there’s more to the story than sheer playability.

“I once owned one another just like it,” Robillard recalls, “and I used it for several years. But when I started playing a Gibson L-5, I didn’t really use the Epiphone that much. I ended up selling it to someone. And later on down the road, I really missed it. The one on the album cover is just like the one that I had. Someone came to one of my gigs a few years ago and just said, ‘I have a 1949 Deluxe Zephyr Regent,’ and that was it.”

Robillard’s latest album—a generous double-disc set of classic and contemporary blues—reinforces his longstanding reputation as one of the world’s foremost roots guitarists, and it’s a worthy follow-up to 2006’s Guitar Groove-A-Rama. It also happens to feature an array of guitars from the Gibson family. The co-founder of the big band Roomful of Blues in the late '60s, Robillard employs a new dotneck reissue Gibson ES-335 on “Slam Hammer” (a classic James Cotton instrumental) and a 1958 Les Paul reissue on “You’re Killin’ Me Baby,” which is a slow-burning helping of Chicago blues. Robillard also uses a Gibson J-50 on the Tom Waits-penned “Low Side of the Road.”

Yet another key axe on the record—and one with a special history—is a 1946 Epiphone Emperor, which appears on a cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” as well as the album-closing “Stretchin’,” a swinging blues studio improvisation. The vintage Emperor was originally sold in a Providence, Rhode Island, music store the very year it was issued, only to be sold back in the late 1950s to the store’s owner, who made it his personal guitar. In the ‘60s, the instrument was sent to Gibson Repair and Restoration, and the company replaced the warped neck with a thin, L-5 style neck. And while in Gibson’s hands, the entire guitar was refinished. “It looks almost like a new guitar,” Robillard says. “It was kept in perfect condition.”

The list of guitars that didn’t make Robillard’s latest album is every bit as impressive. They include a Custom Shop 1957 Les Paul Goldtop Reissue; a Les Paul Junior (which Robillard uses regularly on the road); a John Lee Hooker Sheraton Epiphone; a 1939 Broadway acoustic that he uses primarily on jazz recordings; and a 1944 Epiphone Blackstone; a 1951 ES-350; a 1939 Gibson L-7, which features picture-frame inlays; a 1917 Gibson L-1, which boasts a fat midrange; and a 1930s-era Gibson L-00, a small flat-top.

“It’s the ultimate fingerpicking blues guitar,” Robillard says of the L-00. “The L-00 is a guitar that I actually bought stripped with no bridge on it. I had a bridge made to the specs of the original, and I refinished the top myself. It’s the kind of guitar that I could never get rid of—I paid $400 for it, and it would cost me thousands to replace it. And it also probably sounds better than the average one because the top is thinner since it was stripped. It’s more delicate, and I have to de-tune it when I’m not playing it. But it definitely has a lively top.”

Robillard’s passion for guitars is rivaled only by his knowledge of classic blues and jazz recordings. It’s long been his calling card, and beyond his busy touring schedule and a prolific discography, Robillard’s ability to create vintage sounds has made him an in-demand producer. “I’ve been stuck in a groove now for about 40 years,” Robillard says with a laugh. “And I’m still looking for new ways to do it. That’s what great about the blues: There are so many ways you can play it. It’s about combining elements and styles, and that’s what I really do. It has been my lifelong obsession to explore every aspect of the blues that I can.”